May You Be Our Coach Forever

Apr 30, 2014 | Sports Friends Asia

By Cat Edwards, SF International


We are standing on the sidelines of what has got to be one of the most picturesque soccer fields in the world. To the right are rows upon rows of strawberry plantations, vineyards, and vegetable patches, which provide financial support for the sports ministry model that regularly meets in this place. Its vision? To make people who shine with God’s love in society. It’s perfect. The kids are warming up to practice, but one thing is missing:

Their coach.

Coach Ben started a soccer academy after attending an early Sports Friends basic training in Asia. Following some past ‘disagreements’ with the police, drugs were planted in his vegetables before he went to market to sell them, the police were tipped off, and he was sentenced to six years imprisonment. An innocent man, in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

His three children, wife, friends, church, soccer team and assistant coaches tried hard to appeal for his release, but corruption runs deep and wide within the system, and they were unsuccessful. He was placed in a cell, in poor conditions, together with 200 inmates. And so he prayed.

And he prayed some more.

He talked with the prison management about starting up a soccer team for the inmates. Discovering he was a qualified coach, they agreed and 10 people signed up the first week. He was strict. He had to be. But the players warmed to his discipline combined with humility and a genuine care for their lives. More people signed up.

Coach Ben took his team to play in a prison league, and they became national champions. Following this he was made Head Coach of the prison’s sports club and upgraded to a cell with 50 people, and then again to a ‘VIP’ cell of just 20 people. In three months he read the whole Bible from cover to cover so that he could share the Gospel with his team.

And so he began to carry out the sports ministry model he had been trained to do with young people… but with prisoners instead. He prayed for them. He encouraged them. He loved them.

One of his team members wanted to see if the God whom Coach Ben talked about was real, so the man prayed that, if God existed, He would deliver him a Bible into the prison. The next morning, some missionaries arrived to ask if anybody needed a Bible. He raised his hand and believed.

Another man had given up hope because his wife had not been to visit him for two months. Coach Ben offered to pray with him, and the next day his wife showed up. She had been in the hospital for two months, unable to get a message out to her husband. He, too, believed.

Inmate after inmate began to accept Jesus Christ; people with pasts and records that were unspeakably corrupt. More than 50 prisoners have come to faith because of Coach Ben’s ministry. One new believer wrote to him, “You have given me hope – I thought that the purpose of my life was just to wake up, eat, sleep, and die. But you have given me hope in Jesus Christ, and now I know why I was born.”

I saw a child-like drawing given to Coach Ben by one of the prisoners on his team that brought tears to my eyes, pictured below. It shows him pulling a line of struggling men up a rugged mountain towards a cross labeled ‘Jesus Christ.’ A speech bubble from his mouth says, “fight, fight!”

Underneath, it simply says this:

“May you be our coach forever.”

Coach Bao

Coach Ben is still in prison. But, when he does get released, he has promised to go back regularly and coach his new sports ministry model. Pray for his release. But more than that, pray that the name of our almighty God, whose plans are so much greater than man’s, would be glorified and amplified through Coach Ben’s extraordinary life and ministry.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”. Isaiah 55: 8-9